California bank leaguer ends quietly

A 10 1/2-hour bank siege ended early Thursday when police tricked the gunman by offering him cigarettes, then rescued his final hostage, who had been dragged back inside after an unsuccessful dash to safety. The suspect, identified as 47-year-old Jess Martinez, was taken into custody, police said. The woman, the last of eight hostages held inside the bank, was unharmed, authorities said.

"It's a great conclusion to a very long incident," said Tulare County Sherriff's Lt. Keith Douglas. "This is a great ending for everybody involved."

The suspect asked officers to leave a package of cigarettes at the bank door, Douglas said. When he sent the hostage to retrieve them, SWAT officers grabbed her and pulled her to safety, he said. Another group of officers burst into the bank and grabbed Martinez, who gave up without a struggle, he said.

The siege began Wednesday afternoon when police said the man entered a Bank of America branch in downtown Exeter and demanded money. He took eight people hostage after employees alerted police, but released three customers within 10 minutes, Douglas said.

Dozens of Tulare County Sheriff's Department police commandos, FBI agents and police officers surrounded the building and evacuated most of the downtown area.

After about three hours, the suspect released another hostage a female bank employee. Another was released around 10:15 p.m. Then, after midnight, the remaining three hostages, all female bank employees, tried to run out the front door. The last woman was grabbed and pulled back inside, police said, but the other two successfully escaped.

At one point, the man asked for a car, authorities said. During negotiations, some of the hostages were able to call family members, authorities said. The hostages were "very visually upset but very relieved," Douglas said, reports the AP.

D.M.